Tuesday, August 31, 2010

28 Days Later

I feel beyond blissful today. Another perfect sunny morning. I woke up feeling incredulous, almost shocked. It's over! Again. Five months of normalcy are ahead of me. I'm so excited ... about everything.

But yesterday I had certain points where I felt down. Be prepared to have mixed emotions coming off a cleanse. Yes, you'll feel happy, relieved, full of anticipation. But you also might feel slightly depressed.

I don't know what it is about ending a cleanse than can sometimes make me feel a bit blue. Is it the fact that I'm forced to cleanse at all? I know alcoholics can feel very resentful about not being able to drink if they must abstain indefinitely. Maybe it's just that. A low-grade bitterness that I can't be drinking all the time and have to cleanse in the first place.

Is it guilt? Guilt that I CAN start drinking again and other alcoholics can't? Guilt that I discovered how to do this and other people haven't? Guilt that I enjoy drinking so much that I go through this twice a year? Guilt because the "experts" say this shouldn't be possible? That there's only one way to cure alcoholism - and that's quitting forever? Or worse, that alcoholism can never be cured and that 20 years after your last drink, you're still considered an alcoholic?

Is it fear? Fear that this plan will stop working? Fear that I'll lose control again? I suppose all alcoholics will always feel at least a subtle fear when it comes to alcohol. God knows we have it drilled into us from all sides. But let's not call it fear anymore. Let's call it what it should be: respect. We should have respect for alcohol. It is a good slave, but a hard master.

Maybe the mixed emotions I sometimes feel in the days leading up to the end of a cleanse are just a reminder of how quickly time passes in general. Because you will find a sort of seamless amorphous quality to time when you start cleansing. When it's over, you wonder did it go by fast? Did it take forever? Does it seem more like a weekend? More like a year? Does it feel like another lifetime?

Because sometimes it feels like that, too. As if you were a whole other person before. A darker person, a more worried person. I always feel transformed - for the better - after a cleanse. I always have such a feeling of accomplishment. But as with all things that require effort, energy and determination, there are growing pains, too.

Because cleansing truly is a growing process. A time of self-discovery. A time of self-empowerment. Self-love. And maybe, sometimes, self-loathing - because you were cursed with the gene or the temperament or the pleasure receptors that made you so vulnerable to drinking in the first place.

Let the feelings come and go. Let them flow through you. Write about it, blog about it, talk to friends or your spouse or your mother about it. Let it go. Let it be. The journey is not over yet. It is just beginning. There is no "end" to this - or any plan to improve your life. Cleansing is a continuous, flowing, learning experience - as life always will be. Be at one with it. Live in peace with it. The good and the bad. It is all vital to your learning process. As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke said "The only journey is the one within." So be proud of yourself for beginning the most important journey of all.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Advice from the Hubs

As you've guessed, I try to make cleansing easy, rewarding, enlightening and fun for myself. I hope you find, as I have, that's exactly what cleansing is for you.

But here's some advice from the hubby if you're having trouble on your cleanse, if it's not all classic novels and your favorite music and dancing through cravings and butterflies in your empty wine glass. Because he benefits from my cleansing (almost) as much as I do, and has lived through all the ups and downs of alcoholism with me, I definitely think he earns the right to chime in.

He says it doesn't matter if cleansing is hard for you. It doesn't matter if you have to hold a gun to your head. Or if you pull your hair out every day. Do it. Do it. Do it. It'll be worth it in the long run. Because as hard as it is, not only could it help you with a serious drinking problem (i.e. save your life, your health, your family, your job, your friends, your happiness). Not only can cleansing do all of that, but in the end, you'll have a full, fun, enjoyable life. It's not about sacrifice. It's about growing and learning. And remember, don't worry ... hang in there. You've got another drink coming. ;)

Day 28 - Hallelujah!

Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba babababababa bababaaaa, bababababaabbababababababaaaa babaaaah!

Hummed to Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" - the final movement, 'Ode to Joy.' :)

It is the last day of my cleanse. It is here. It is blessed. It is joyful. It is a perfect late-summer morning ... and I feel happy, excited and proud of myself.

In the spirit of making cleansing a workable part of your life, if you have to break a cleanse on the 27th or 28th day for a very special occasion, go ahead. But make sure it's a good reason and not just an excuse to break down early. And again, be careful how much you drink.

Yesterday we ran one of the most wonderful errands of a cleanse. And it's a great thing to do just before you finish yours: we went to the liquor store to stock up! The muzak actually found me dancing by myself in the vintages section: Jackson 5's "ABC" - easy as one, two, three ... Seriously, there was no dancing the last time I was in a liquor store, about a month ago, just before the cleanse began. A much more somber mood overtook me that day. It felt sort of like casket shopping for a sick relative. Kidding. Totally. Just saying it was a lot more fun yesterday. ;) And, yes, now is the time to take out the wine glasses and put that favorite bottle of chardonnay or pinot to chill on the fridge door.

Last night, the hubs and I took a long walk for dinner, about half an hour through the university campus to a vegetarian restaurant we've been meaning to try. It was such a lovely, quiet Sunday evening, perfect for a long walk. Students are just coming back for the year and computer screens glowed behind Victorian windows. Clusters of them sat on porches in the dark, half-hidden by lush trees, the murmur of their voices warm and soft in the night.

We sat outside on the patio, on a leafy street, a few couples at the other tables. The place isn't licensed for alcohol - a definite plus when you're cleansing - but I had a lovely sparkling orange-cranberry drink from a company called Bottle Green Drinks. It was absolutely delicious and I would've loved to discover it earlier in the cleanse. Or any time, really. It was snappy and crisp/sweet and a great accompaniment to my meal, which I won't describe because it tasted a lot yummier than it sounds. Suffice it to say, it was gray.

Ba ba ba bababababa bababababa baba bahhhhh ... :)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

DAY 26 - So-so Friday

Yesterday was the last Friday of the cleanse. Sort of a "Good Friday," actually. Next Friday will be a "Great Friday." ;)

There are other things I do besides reading and watching movies during cleanses.

This time around, I patched up the chipped plaster around our bedroom door. This plaster has been chipped for two years now - ever since my last bad, angry, blackout drunk. Because the hubs and I fought so much I went to bed in such a rage, I had to slam - and I mean atomic slam - the bedroom door while screaming: "Fucking control freak!" or something like that. I'm not sure. I blacked out. I just know I woke up the next morning knowing it had been bad.

But I know what I did wrong and I'll tell you before the cleanse is over. For now, suffice to say, be VERY, VERY, V-E-R-Y careful not to have too many drinks in the days you're just coming off the cleanse. And I learned an incredible lesson from it.

Anyway, it was really rewarding to fix that door. I'm convinced now that if there are ever any chips around it, it'll be from the wind.

I also put in pretty shelf liner under the kitchen sink this cleanse. Last cleanse I did the balcony windows. I was hoping to get to them again this month, but the weather was just waaaay too hot to be out there.

If you think about it, and plan for it, there are tons of things you can get done around the house while you're cleansing. Whether that's gardening, painting, fixing, mending, cleaning, wiping, polishing, watering, patching. It'll make time pass and give you a really nice sense of accomplishment when the cleanse is done.

There's a frenetic energy that comes with drinking. It's fun, it's nice, it's normal, and as long as you're not overdoing it, it's perfectly healthy.

But on a cleanse, there is an open quality to your mind, your heart and your time. Savor it. Enjoy it. Sink into it. Get things done. It's an incredible journey ... and it will be over before you know it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

DAY 25 - Pages and Screens

Since you'll have less time to stumble around half-blasted all evening (kidding!), cleansing is a great time to catch up on your reading, so stock up on some books you've been meaning to get to. Pile them in beforehand or go to your favorite bookstore while you're on the cleanse. It's extremely relaxing and enjoyable. Plus you probably don't usually associate book browsing with drinking. Unless you've spent lots of time in the addiction self-help aisle, which I have. But I've never actually been drunk to do it. ;)

A really good place to start is the classics. Maybe there's a masterpiece you've always dreamt of reading. You might not get WAR AND PEACE finished in one month (I know I've been working on my copy for about ten years). But there are probably lots of other slightly less substantial reads you've be meaning to add to your repertoire. (This month, I picked up Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winner, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - which I at least half read in tenth grade - but which I've been meaning to read again to research a novel I'm working on.) If you choose a classic, when the cleanse is over, you'll have enriched your life (not just your health) immeasurably. But, hey, if you're not feeling heavy, get in a stack of romances or fantasies or crime thrillers. Treat yourself. And don't judge!

This month, I also got in some non-fiction for my Kindle. I read Seth Godin's LINCHPIN, a really great book about making yourself an "artist" and becoming invaluable in your workplace. It has tons of great information about how technology is changing our world - and our potential - and how you can take advantage of that. It's a nice self-help book, too, referencing the wisdom of everyone from Buddhists to baristas.

I also read IGNORE EVERYBODY by the cartoonist and writer Hugh MacLeod. Interspersed with his hilarious cartoons, all drawn on business-cards, which is how he began, doodling on business cards in bars (a man after my own heart), he's got great advice about success, acceptance, and finding your own way.

Self-help books are wonderful when you're cleansing, because being 100% sober for four weeks really puts you in touch with yourself. Your mind is totally free to absorb all the new, potentially helpful information.

Business and relationship books are obvious choices - at least after that first foggy weekend is behind you. But you might even want to indulge in more spiritual self-help. As I've said, cleansing can be a very personal, emotional journey so it's a wonderful time to explore new teachers. I'm an enormous fan of Abraham-Hicks, Louise Hay, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, and many of the writers at Hay House publishers.

And speaking of books, maybe you want to pick up a nice, new journal or Moleskin notebook to keep a diary of your cleanse. Or you can blog about it. I've always kept a journal, but I find it especially rewarding when I'm cleansing. It's nice to keep a record of your journey as it happens. It's encouraging to keep track of the days going by. But it's also fascinating and helpful to go back to previous cleanses and see what was on your mind. Plus this acts as a record of your personal preferences and tips for your next cleanse.

COMFORT TOOB

But it's not just books you'll have more time for. Maybe there's a DVD boxed set you've been meaning to catch up on. We're watching "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and finished "Dexter" earlier in the month.

Maybe you just feel like "vedging" out. Sometimes it's fun to just put on TV Land or another golden oldie channel. Nothing like your favorite old feel-good shows on a cleanse - or any time, really. Right now, we're O.D.ing on "Cheers" and "Mary Tyler Moore."

Same goes for movies. Whether you go out for a flick or rent one to watch at home, enjoy. If you have kids, this is also a great time to really indulge their tastes, too. Even though I don't have kids, I can't shake the idea that cleansing would be a really special time with them.

Sometimes I just throw in an old fave from my youth. It's not often I get through a cleanse without watching JAWS for the 300th time. (Mind you, I was a little too busy for that this month). Scary flicks, classics, comedies, whatever. It's comforting, fun, and just a little bit frivolous to watch movies you really adore.

Cleansing can be a really emotional, spiritual time in many regards. But it can also be silly and fun. Don't take yourself too seriously. Enjoy yourself! If there's ANY time you deserve it, it's during a cleanse. You're doing something positive, constructive and healthy for your life. And your entire future. Act accordingly, be proud and have fun! The whole scope of your life is going to widen. Explore every nook and cranny you want to.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 24 - Preparing to Cleanse

Just five days left! Absolutely heavenly.

But before I go off the cleanse, I'll let you know a couple of the things I do to get ready for one.

1) HIDE YOUR STEMWARE

I usually tuck away my fave wine glasses when I'm on a cleanse. No use seeing them every time I open the cupboard. You might want to do the same thing: tuck your shot glasses, stemware, highballs, or any glasses and utensils that are especially for drinking in a part of the kitchen where you won't see them every time you grab a juice glass.

This cleanse was a bit different for me, however, because I started using stemless wine glasses this year and I continued using them throughout the cleanse. As I said in "The Teatoller" post, I've even been drinking warm or cold tea in the stemless wine glasses. It's been really rewarding and adds another dimension to drinking sodas or juice or teas. And, again, I can't recommend Davidstea.com highly enough. I've mentioned the Organic Detox and Xanadu teas before, but they've really been a lifesaver. Especially the Xanadu which is a nice berry tea that with just a little bit of agave tastes like Kool-Aid on a hot summer day.

Xanadu is a seasonal tea so it may not always be available, but I'm sure any good organic berry concoction with a teaspoon of agave would be great.

2) EMPTY THE LIQUOR CABINET BEFORE

Your last trip to the liquor store before a cleanse is kind of a love/hate experience. You might not be taking your regular nights off during the two weeks before a cleanse, so there might be a few more bottles of wine or liquor in your cabinet.

But when the cleanse starts, make sure that those bottles are out of the way. My husband keeps his scotch and Grand Marnier bottles in the cupboard, but those drinks have never tempted me so it's not a big deal to have them there when I open that door for the spaghetti pot or whatever. But there are no white wines in there, no champagne bottles, and usually not any red wine.

Mark gets in a bottle or two of red wine for himself to sip after I go to sleep, so I've gotten used to that. In fact, seeing bottles doesn't bother me at all anymore. I just empty the cupboard out of habit and because it makes stocking up a few days before the cleanse is over even more fun.

But for your first few cleanses you probably want to keep your favorite bottles out of the way. It just makes things easier on you when you're starting out.

The same goes for the fridge, obvi. If ice-cold pinot grigio or chardonnay is your soft spot, you probably don't want a nice fresh bottle sitting on the fridge door when you reach in for your O.J.

Keeping your fave liquor out of sight not only makes dealing with a cleanse a bit easier, but it also reminds you that you're on a cleanse. That it's a special time of the year. And, as I said, it makes it all the more fun when you stock up after the cleanse.

3) SUBSTITUTE PITCHERS

Before you start a cleanse, especially before the first cleanse weekend, make sure you have plenty of supplemental drinks on hand.

- TEAS: I won't bang the davidstea.com drum again (not really), but I can't stress how important it is to have some yummy organic teas on hand to drink either hot or cold. And try the wine glass idea just for fun. I've loved it and it's a new habit. That's part of the enjoyment of going on a cleanse: every time you do one, you discover something new. About yourself, your health, your house, your world, cleansing itself.

The great thing about a four-week cleanse is that it really does give your liver time to cleanse. (Though, to be honest, there is a school of thought that says it's impossible to cleanse your liver to begin with and a whole other school of thought that says you don't even HAVE to, it's a self-cleaning oven.) But I'm still siding with the idea that even giving my liver a break from metabolizing liquor is a "cleanse," anyway.

If you really want to give your liver an extra boost, davidstea.com has that great Organic Detox I just discovered during this cleanse. But there are lots of organic teas that are reputed to cleanse your liver, including Milk Thistle, Camomile (both of which I drink regularly, cleansing or not), Dandelion Root, Red Clover, and Cascara Sagrada. Drinking a cup of warm water with the juice of a 1/4 lemon first thing in the morning is also said to cleanse your liver and help with blood flow.

The Herbal Encyclopedia at www.naturalark,com/liverc/html has some good recipes for combining teas, including ginger and peppermint to cleanse your liver, as well.

- JUICES: Obviously, my intake of juice goes up during a cleanse. This time I made sure we had plenty of O.J. and apple juice, but I also topped it up with blueberry-acai juice, which is full of anti-oxidants which will help to make up for those you might be losing in your favorite cabernet sauvignon.

Mixing apple juice, lemon juice, olive oil and distilled water is said to be a good gallbladder and liver cleanser as well - if you really want to take this opportunity for a serious cleanse. I discovered this on fishman2002's YouTube channel. It's the Liver & Gall Bladder Body Cleanse Testimony.

- SODA/POP: Listen, if you already drink two gallons of Diet Coke a day, you probably need another whole cleanse altogether. Seriously. Don't you watch Oprah and Dr. Oz? Take it down a notch.

If you already drink a lot of sodas, try not to overdo it on a cleanse. Choose healthier options. There are tons. But if you don't MIND abusing your body with soda every day/all day, then go for it. Who am I to judge? If you're worried about the calories, go for the diet options. I hate recommending all the artificial sweeteners and chemicals, but one problem at a time. If your Diet Dew helps you get through the night, then what the hell? Go for it. Just please take it easy on the carbonated sweet things - for your own good. As I mentioned before, no use curing your alcoholism and ending up with diabetes.

If you're really craving something sweet and want to forgo the sodas, do yourself a huge favor and try a nice fruit-based tea with agave syrup. Experiment until you find something you really enjoy. And keep a variety on hand.

By the way, it's not as if I never drink soda on a cleanse. The last week, I usually end up getting a few bottles just to make that last stretch go by more quickly - and just in case I need an extra boost for the last weekend.

Plus I really feel I deserve to treat myself. If you're not a huge pop drinker, but want to give it a try and see if it helps with your energy, you might want to try your favorite pop from when you were a kid. This week I bought root beer and cream soda. Seriously. Every sip takes me back to some afternoon during the summer vacation when I was, like, ten or something. It's lovely and delicious and fun.

ENERGY DRINKS: No bull - Red Bull helps. I took one can to the wedding I attended on the weekend. Mark kept it tucked in his suit jacket pocket. After the first course was served and my orange juice (and cranberry! I'd had two juices mixed with sparkling water by that point) was gone, I cracked the Red Bull and had it for the rest of my meal and for toasting during speeches.

Plus my glass was always at least a bit full so the server was never tempted to top me up with wine or badger me with requests. In fact, I didn't have to tell the server I wasn't drinking at all. Which was nice. It always seems like such a kill joy thing to do to have to whisper to the server that you're not drinking. Though it's not the end of the world, since designated drivers do it all night.

As for having juice or energy drinks with your meal, I'm sure your sommelier will not approve. Red Bull's chemical sweetness doesn't compliment the flavor of salmon or beef like a good glass of vino. But it's not bad - and the important thing is, if you need it, you have that boost of energy for talking to drunk relatives as the night wears on, you've got energy to listen to speeches, and something to toast with besides water. More importantly, you've got a little extra get-up-n-go when one of those drunk relatives drags you onto the dance floor for the Macarena or whatever. Have an energy drink if you need it. Red Bull works. No bull.

*N.B. Nobody played the Macarena. ;) But you get my point.

- SPARKLING WATER: A little fizz in your drinks always makes it feel a bit special. If you're getting tired of plain juice (or even juice mixed with tap water, just to take the sweetness down), try adding sparkling mineral water. It's not exactly Smirnoff Ice, but it can turn any juice into a feel-good fizzy.

4) NATURALLY SWEET

You might need sweeteners to help make all that tea a little more palatable. I am SUCH an enormous fan of Agave Syrup I don't think I'll ever use another sweetener. It has a sweet, true, sugar taste (unlike honey or maple syrup), but it won't spike your blood sugar like other sweeteners.

There are tons of other natural sweeteners that have their own benefits and will benefit YOU more than refined sugar during a cleanse: brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, evaporated fruit juice, honey, maple syrup and stevia are just a few. Find out which ones you prefer and make sure you have enough on hand for your cleanse - especially that first weekend.

5) SUPPLEMENTAL SUPPLEMENTS

Resveratrol is a good anti-oxidant supplement that will help make up for those you're losing in your red wine.

Vitamin C is always good to take when you're cleansing, whether that's a cleanse diet or an alcohol cleanse.

Vitamin B - Drinking depletes your vitamin B, so you should be taking it normally - even on a cleanse. But B12 especially is a nice extra energy boost when you're cleansing. I prefer the tiny sublingual pills that dissolve beneath your tongue, 100 mg, once or twice a day.

There are also lots of cleansing tonics, mixes, drinks, etc. that you can find at your local health food store. If you're considering a fuller cleanse - not just alcohol - you might want to try one of these.

6) FOOD

Don't deprive yourself too much food-wise when you first start alcohol cleansing. You don't want to get discouraged. Treat yourself every now and again. Especially on the last weekend.

If, on the other hand, you're a health nut and you want to really take advantage of a total body cleanse while you've cut out drinking, that's ideal. As of today, there are literally 101 million hits for "cleansing" on Google. A sign of the times, I guess. Find one that works for you.

Get in lots of fruit. It's so yummy and full of energy when you're cleansing. For some reason - maybe an obvious one - I absolutely crave green grapes when I'm cleansing. The really, cold, crisp ones that break under your teeth. Yum!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day 23 - Timing is Everything

I'm less than a week away from going off my cleanse now. I'm almost euphoric at this point in a cleanse. Because the end is so near. And I'm proud of myself. I feel strong and positive and in control. I know I'm doing something really healthy for myself - but that the hardest part of the plan is almost over.

TIMING YOUR CLEANSES

I recommend taking your two cleanses about five months apart. It doesn't have to be exact - you can make it four and six if necessary one year. But five months apart gives you ample normal "drinking months" without a) allowing you to fall back into the cycle of dopamine/depression; or b) having cleanses too unreasonably close together.

I usually take my first cleanse starting some time in late January or early February. I know February seems like a blah month not to drink, but Feb's a write-off anyway, and I just can't picture facing the post-Christmas crash without drinking. But because the holidays are a time when you're probably drinking more, don't wait too long into the New Year to start your cleanse. You want to detox your body as soon as you can after a period of indulging.

My second cleanse usually comes some time in August. I know some people must think I'm crazy to cleanse during the summer. All those backyard barbecues? Those weeks at the cottage? How can you cleanse then? So maybe you want to wait until September. It's the start of a school year for the kids, a new season, an overall shift in the entire world around you as the summer fades. That's fine. But I don't have a backyard for barbecues (we live in an apartment) and we don't have a cottage, so honestly August works just fine for me. Especially because now that all the back-to-school ads are on and everyone's talking about how sad they are that the summer is almost over, I'm actually elated ... because my cleanse is almost over, too.

It is absolutely glorious for me to be able to have a nice drink on the Labor Day Weekend. And to know that I have five months of regular drinking ahead of me. It's really a generous amount of time for a gal like me who used to be an alkie. It's absolutely dreamy, actually. Besides, Autumn is my favorite month - my birthday, our anniversary, the leaves - so I really don't like the idea of cleansing then.

But make it work for you. Just time your cleanses so they're spaced about those five months apart. I've also found that cleansing at generally the same time every year is also helpful for me. I get into habits. It feels familiar and welcome. I know what I'm in for. I know I've done it before. Being regular about your cleanses creates a gentle, predictable, safe regimen that might help you manage them more easily, too.

As for the two nights off a week, I USUALLY choose Tuesday and Thursday - sort of nothing nights, anyway (these are, by the way, two FULL days and nights, not just the evenings). If for whatever reason you've been drinking more heavily than usual, take two - or even three - nights off in a row. Or if a an outing gets canceled, don't feel you have to drink anyway. It really helps your system to get a couple cleansing days back to back. You'll see. Your body - and brain - will really love it.

And if, for whatever reason, something comes up and you get an invitation to go out on a night that you regularly cleanse, don't worry about. Cleanse on a different night then. It's a workable, adjustable plan. Routines help. But being too stuck on a routine is counterproductive.

And remember, you don't have to take those two days off during holidays, vacations, or in the two weeks leading up to a cleanse. Giving yourself that freedom to be "normal" and enjoy your life really helps make this plan workable and livable.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Day 21 - Last Week!

Ahhh ... the sheer bliss of being this far into a cleanse. The feeling of accomplishment. The excitement. The relief. It's almost over ... :)

I recently read - on the A.A. exam, no less - that if you can quit drinking on your own, you're not an alcoholic. So I can quit drinking - twice a year - on my own. I guess I'm not an alcoholic.

But what of my answers 7 years ago to that alcoholism quiz set up by the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence? That put me squarely in the early to mid stages of alcoholism. But if I can quit on my own, A.A. says I'm not an alcoholic? Even though 85% of all alcoholics who manage to quit do so on their own without medical supervision or any other programs? Are all those people answering 'yes' to being alcoholics NOT actually alcoholics?

Another popular test - the CAGE questionnaire published in 1970 by Dr. John A. Ewing - has only four questions. According to that one, I USED to be an alcoholic - but I'm not anymore. In fact, I used to be an alcoholic according to ALL the tests I've seen.

But today, I'm not. Sooooo ... is this working? I say it is.

Let's be honest: it's in the best interest of A.A. - and addiction therapies of all kinds - to convince you that you need them to kick drinking. You walk into a used car lot, you're not going to find a salesperson who says, "Hey, you should start cycling. It's so good for your heart."

By the way, found the most informative - and often hilarious - blog called stinkin-thinkin.com. They been knocking the wind out of the addiction industry's sails for years now. Visit them if you haven't already.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day 20 - Napalm in the AM

There's a line in "Apocalypse Now" where a general tells Martin Sheen's character that if he eats a dish of prawns, he doesn't have to prove his courage in any other way. I had my own test last night at my first sober wedding (since I was 13, anyway).

To make matters worse, it was a two-hour drive, through the rain, to the countryside. And just in case that wasn't enough, the piece de resistance - it was taking place at a vineyard. Awesome. Fields of grapevines shooting off to the horizon, misty ponds, endless amounts of the house vintage.

And I made it.

Actually, it was fine. The wedding was beautiful - the ceremony taking place under a canopy of soaring trees where like nature's own confetti, all these tiny yellow-green leaves started falling almost on command. The bride was beautiful in an off-white, strapless cloud of a gown and the groom was romantic and teary-eyed.

I also adore my husband's extended family. It's huge and hilarious and fun-loving and it was great catching up with everyone - even though I snuck off the dance floor halfway through BEP's "I Gotta Feeling" cuz I was just too sober to jump up and down and sing at the top of my lungs for the whole thing.

I'm half-convinced that the whole institution of marriage was not invented for pro-creation or romance or happily ever after. Nope. I'm sure that weddings exist first and foremost so that everyone has an excuse to get drunk. And I'll drink to that. By the way, Jesus' first miracle? (John 2:1-11). Turning water into wine? He did it at the marriage at Cana. Not the National Sheepherders Convention. And that's probably for the best. I hear those sheepherder conventions are pretty crazy as it is.

Speaking of "Napalm in the Morning," it's awesome to wake up after a wedding without a hangover. :)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Day 18 - Drink 'n Drop

I came up with this plan during the summer of 2003, after a bad drunk - not my worst, but a nasty one on top of about a thousand nasty ones. It was the drunk that broke the drinker's back.

My husband was working late that night - as he often did - and as I usually did when he wasn't home, I drank by myself. People often used to ask me how I could tolerate my husband's long hours and I'd tell them, "Well, my job requires me to spend a lot of time on my own, too" or "I've always been a bit of a loner," or whatever. But in reality, I think the main reason I tolerated my husband's long hours was because it gave me more time to drink by myself.

That day started out as many of my days did back then: with a trip to one of a few local liquor stores for my daily supply of white wine, little bottles of Friexenet and/or some vodka coolers. At that stage in my life, I was "sneaking" at least a bottle and a half of white wine a day and having another couple of glasses with my husband at night.

That was just a normal day.

When I would wake up in the morning, I'd see him off to work and then go straight to the fridge for my first couple of swallows of wine - sometimes as early as 8:30. Being a writer and working from home gave me plenty of opportunities to drink alone. That particular day, (I think!) I finished somewhere between 2 and 3 bottles of wine. I do know that the last one was a dry rose. I got bored and lonely so after talking to my mom on the phone (I could only ever talk to her when I was drunk, by the way - I talk to her a lot less now that I don't drink alone), I decided to track down my two best friends from grade school and arrange a late-night conference call between the three of us where we could catch up on everything we'd missed in each other's lives in, oh, the last thirty years.

Unfortunately, my friends and I lived thousands of miles apart and this conversation ended up being the most expensive long distance call I ever made. Not that it mattered at the time. After I had hung up, I went to lie down in bed with my Discman (this was 2003) and I passed out in bed with my headphones (listening to the Beatles in this case).

When Mark came home, he found me almost comatose passed out in bed. He pulled off the headphones - kind of roughly (this wasn't the first time he'd come home to find a passed out and/or belligerently drunk wife) and asked me: "What the hell happened? It smells like distillery in here." I told him to "fuck off" and waited for him to leave the room before I rolled over and reached into my bed stand to polish off the last of that bottle of rose.

The next morning, predictably, I woke up with a massive hangover. My husband had already left for work and when I looked at the clock, after 11am, I knew I was too late to keep a lunch date with a friend. I could feel that "mercury yolk" roiling around in my head like the one described so well in Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities." Worse than the hangover, however, was the guilt. I couldn't believe it had happened again.

My mother was a terrible, belligerent blackout drunk and if there was one thing in this world I did not want to be, it was my mother. And here I was, waking up drunk and guilty - again.

I called my friend and rather than making up excuses for not being able to meet her (a definite warning sign according to the research), I just told her the truth. I had gotten really drunk the night before and I was too hung over to leave the house. I couldn't even stand up straight my stomach hurt so much. She said "You have to do something, sweetie," and I said, "I know."

When my husband came home, I sheepishly met him at the door. Now 'sheepishly' is being kind. The absolute despair I felt for having behaved like that, for hurting him again, for letting MYSELF down - was hell on earth. I told him I have to "do something."

So I did.

Another good thing happened that night. I finally realized that my younger brother had always been right. The Beatles really did write better songs later in their careers.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day 17 - For the Children

I've been busy working - much inspiration. If you cleanse, you'll find you have so much more focus for work, for creative pursuits, for hobbies. For your family!

I imagine if my mother had been able to cut out drinking even for two months a year, my life would have been much different. Not only would I have appreciated her trying to do something positive about her problem, but she would've been "there" for me more. Rather than always having to split her attention between my little brother and I, and her addiction. Which only escalated over the years because she never gave her system a chance to rally back.

I've gotten to the point where I forgive her. Now that I know - really know - that erratic, irresponsible behavior, bad moods, depression, hopelessness, and anger, are all aspects of alcohol addiction - and that addiction is almost an inevitable conclusion of heavy drinking - I don't blame her. I don't "wish" that things had been different. Not really.

She tried Alcoholics Anonymous, but like 95% of the people who do, she didn't last long. Maybe a couple of weeks - and then it was back to the bottle. She just didn't want to give it up. That, I can understand. But I wonder ... I just wonder ... if at some point she had this knowledge about what was happening in her brain, and a solid plan to potentially reverse the effects of it, she might have had a happier life. I wonder if we all would have.

If you have kids, regular cleanses seem to me to be a wonderful time to do those things that you've been meaning to do. Zoos, museums, play dates, amusement parks. Maybe just helping them with their homework or reading them to sleep at night. I imagine those months of absolute sobriety and the ability to focus on them more, would be an incredible gift to them - and to yourself. Hell, you could probably spend the rest of the year with a lampshade on your head and they wouldn't even care. ;)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Day 14 - Half done!

I'm more than half finished my cleanse already. My husband said this morning: "I can't believe how quickly it's gone by." And this next two weeks will be even faster. I know that from experience.

Plus I got another sober weekend behind me! This one included a family barbecue which, to be honest, wasn't all that much different with a Starbucks frappucino and good ol' H20 as it is with wine and vodka coolers. When you've been cleansing regularly, you'll see that the difference between being sober and drinking isn't as great as it used to be. Your whole attitude about - and response to - alcohol will change. You won't need as much. You won't want as much. Because you're not always trying to stave off that dreaded dopamine crash. Plus you can be more relaxed in general because you know you're making positive progress with something that used to haunt you.

By the way, they opened a century-old crate of Scotch whisky on Friday. It had been trapped in the ice of Antarctic after the renowned explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton left it in his hut. My hubby's a Scotch connoisseur. Bet he'd love to have been there.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Day 13 - Teatotaller

According to Wiki, teetotalism is "the practice of or the promotion of complete abstinence from alcohol." Well, I'm not a teatotaller, obviously. But I have become a tea-totaller, especially during cleanses.

Until I went on my first long cleanse, I didn't really enjoy tea. It was because of a serious dental procedure (anesthetic and all) I had when I was fifteen. This enormous hole in my gum where my molar used to be wouldn't stop bleeding for a week. My dentist told me to put a wet tea bag there and hold it in my mouth for a few hours. That would help. It did. But as a consequence I've always come to associate the flavor of black tea with the taste of blood, so over the years the charm of drinking tea has been lost on me.

But now that I take regular cleanses, it has become indispensable in my life. I don't drink a lot of caffeine, so I usually opt for herbal blends. But it really helps to have something to drink besides pop or fruit juice, which can be too sweet glass after glass after glass.

What I'd suggest is experimenting with different flavors. A fantastic tea company is davidstea.com. They have the most amazing flavors, but in particular I'm really enjoying their Organic Detox and their Xanadu.

The Detox is full of zinc, potassium, iron and manganese from rooibos. Ginger, ginko, sencha and lemongrass will help detox your liver and boost energy. Juniper berries help flush out toxins. I make two cups in the morning and have one warm one with breakfast. I put the rest in the fridge for the day. In the evening, it's chilled and I drink it in a wine glass. It sounds ridiculous, but it feels great. This tea has the yellow color and slight viscosity of a full-bodied chardonnay. Plus it has a deep, complex mix of flavors that satisfy your craving for something other than sweet juice. And honestly, as silly and junkie-like as it sounds, using a wine glass - with or without a stem - helps make it feel special. You don't feel as if you're depriving yourself as much.

The Xanadu is a mix of berries, rosehip, elderberry and hibiscus. It's a lovely berry-red color with a not-too-sweet, yet still refreshing flavor. For sweetness, I'd recommend adding Agave nectar - it's a delicious natural sweetener, but it won't spike your blood sugar levels.

Also, the preparing of the tea - the boiling and brewing and steeping - has a feeling of ritual about it. Almost like opening and breathing a bottle of wine. If you're choosing healthy teas - especially green teas with lots of antioxidants which will make up for the ones you're missing in your red wine - it'll also help your overall immune system during your cleanse.

Hot or chilled, in a wine glass or cup ... discover all the benefits of tea during your cleanse. Davidstea.com is a wonderful place to start, but there are many on the web and in your neighborhood you can explore. Cheers!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day 11 - Footshteps! Footshteps!

I can just hear the squeak of the folding chairs at A.A. meetings everywhere. The stamping of feet, the shouting of voices, torches lighting the way to my front door - which the angry mob will break down with a battering ram. I don't mean to offend A.A. people. If you're in A.A. and you love it, congratulations. If you've quit drinking without A.A., and you're happy, good for you. Seriously.

This isn't for people who've managed to get a handle on their drinking on their own. This is for people out there who feel alone, powerless, afraid, angry, hopeless. The way I used to. People who are just on the cusp of alcoholism who recognize their problem but who want to get control of it before it ruins everything they hold dear. And for a lot of people who hold alcohol dear, that does NOT mean giving it up indefinitely.

Even for people who do join A.A., the statistics aren't good. If you've gone to meetings and dropped out, you probably know you're not alone. 50% of A.A. newcomers drop out within 30 days. 95% of them are gone within the first year. According to Rational Recovery (www.rational.org - another abstinence program that seems to be having much success) and A.A.'s 1989 Triennial Membership Survey, most people who leave A.A. cite the religious content as their reason; others didn't like the powerlessness idea or the lifelong dependency on A.A.; some weren't helped by the program; others found it plain depressing. As I'm sure I would.

For me, the big problem with A.A. - well, besides the part where you have to quit drinking forever, which is by far my MAIN problem - is the concept of being powerless over alcohol. I know some will say I'm in "denial" but I just don't like the idea of being powerless over anything. Including alcohol. I believe that we are co-creating our lives with whatever "higher power" is out there. And I don't like to think of God or "Source Energy" or the capital-U Universe (or whatever you want to call it) as being a snippy bartender with nothing better to do than cut me off before last call.

I believe we have to take responsibility for every aspect of our lives - as difficult as that may be sometimes (and I still have a lot to learn that way). But this is essentially what this new plan is about. Showing myself that I DO have a substantial amount of power over alcohol. I practice it every day. Every week. every month. And I'm succeeding because regular cleanses help give me that power.

It's an incredible boost to your confidence to see yourself making progress with your drinking problem. The truth is, most of us are not completely powerless over alcohol. Most people who do manage to quit drinking do it on their own - and keep it up on their own. Don't believe the hype. You're not powerless.

Many thank to Mel Brooks for the "Footshteps! Footshteps!" thing. It's from "Young Frankenstein" - hilarious movie if you haven't seen it. Mel Brooks actually stayed in a house we rented in the Hamptons two years ago. I was there researching my second novel. The sliding doors to the pool deck were so hard to open that I used to have to get Mark to do it for me every time I went outside. When we heard Mel Brooks was going to be staying there next - a big hero of mine - I absolutely had to call the owners and tell them to grease the track for the sliding doors. I just couldn't picture poor Mel getting a heart attack trying to open them and being found in a puddle of Smirnoff Ice. You're welcome, Mr. Brooks. :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 10! A.A.-holes

I always love hitting the double digits when I'm on a cleanse. You really get the feeling things are zipping along. It's like when you were a kid - and you got to junior high or something. Anyway - here's a diatribe I wrote just before starting my first long cleanse ... Sort of explains my aversion to abstinence and A.A.

July 9, 2003

I have a problem with recovering alcoholics. I have a problem with those people who sit in church basements and sip orange juice out of Styrofoam cups and eat cookies from paper plates set up next to the church bazaar coffee terrine at the back. I have a problem with their "innocence." They're often clean-shaven. Their skin is clear. Their eyes are bright and shiny. They smile and laugh a lot. But there's something almost too clean about them. Too happy. Despite the fact that they're all dying inside on and off throughout the day, they're so thrilled with their sobriety. And they should be. They're so proud of it. And they should be. They slink off to coffee shops together and talk about the bad old days, probably with a combination of relief that it's over and nostalgia for the way it was.

I really don't want to be one of those happy, smiling people. Yes, I want to get better. But I always saw my life this way: Champagne on happy occasions (like opening my first carton of my first novel). Wine with dinner. Wine in a cafe in France. I really can't - and don't want to - picture my life without wine. I'll be the first to admit that whatever I have tried to control myself from not drinking two bottles of wine and passing out listening to old Beatles CDs has not worked. So I may have to live my life without wine.

But I don't want to be one of THOSE alcoholics. One of those happy but delicate-looking people who smile like they believe in God. Which most of them do now that they belong to A.A. Chances are, none of them are more than forty-eight hours away from their last church basement anyway, since that's where most A.A. meetings are held. But there's something fragile about them.

Something used to haunt them. And no longer does. Alcohol is like a ghost. It's like a demon. A possessor. It gets in there and takes over and colors everything, every word, every expression, every movement. You become possessed by it when you're a drunk. And when it leaves, it seems as if - and must feel as if - you've lost some part of yourself too. And maybe that's what I recognize in these people - that their demons are gone. And maybe they don't seem as interesting without their demons. Maybe that's why I don't want to be one of those people.

They're probably not like this. When I meet them, I'll probably be fascinated by their depth, their courage, their intelligence. And to tell you the truth, I'd probably enjoy their company a lot more when they were sober than when they were drunk. Eventually, you can say that about every drunk you meet. Or so they tell you.

I just don't want to BE that glowing, vacuous non-drinker in the corner of the party, laughing with the other clean-living family members who 'never touch a drop,' 'never acquired a taste for the stuff,' 'have given it up myself, twenty years ago almost to the day,' or, for whatever other reason have to abstain temporarily. Because they're pregnant, or trying to get pregnant, are on anti-biotics for dental surgery or a bout with the flu or they say with a sad sigh, they're the designated driver for the night.

I still want to be ME. I don't want always to be obsessing about the rawness of 'this new emotion' or the honesty of life without booze. How amazing it is to wake up without a hangover. What food really tastes like. What a relief it is not to have to hide bottles anymore. I'm sure that's all good. But I don't want to ooze all that goodness. Frankly, I know it takes great strength to do that, to tackle the problem, to quit - but it's not strength that comes out of these people, not to me. It's fragility. Because each and every day they have to remind themselves they could relapse at any moment.

I picture mean people - you know, other alcoholics who resent the fact you were able to 'do it' - or maybe just wicked people who are bored with cocktail party conversations, sort of like Valmont in 'Les Liasons Dangereuses' circling the outside of conversations, somehow divining those precarious few holding their mocktails and sodas with lime. Those ones that seem always - even four hours into a party - unrumpled, clean, erect, tidy, in control, glancing at their watches, looking for their partners, widening their eyes: "It's time to go." You want to go up to those people - the same way you wanted to go up to the prissy girls in school - and push them down in the mud. Maybe you want to slip something into their glasses just to see what would happen. Because they seem so vulnerable. Interestingly ... I was that prissy girl in school, for a while anyway.

Maybe that's what drinking did for me when I was in high school. Maybe I stopped being that vulnerable, skinny little blonde who was shorter than everyone, smarter than everyone and developed later than everyone. I don't want to be that meek little girl who must've had a 'kick me' sign on her back because there were whole groups of boys who stayed after school to beat her up. And then when the boys stopped beating her up, the girls started. In a room of people, I was so fragile and weak looking. I think I stood out.

Maybe I still stand out. I don't know. But I think I may have started to drink so much so that not only did I feel stronger - but I appeared stronger too. A little dangerous, out of control. A wild woman. I could fly off the handle at any minute. Look at her, stumbling around the party, flirting with guys she just met, dancing in the middle of the floor by herself, puking out car doors. She's not fragile or vulnerable. She's crazy. She's tough. She's cool.

I still want to be COOL. I guess that's what it boils down to. And I just don't know if recovering alcoholics, coming from their church basements, buzzing on caffeine and empty carbs, are actually cool. Healthy. Strong. Clean. Sure. But are they cool? Because there is something cool about a drunk - at least at some point in their 'disease' before it starts to get ugly. Something about the way they stand, hold a drink, move their heads, touch you, slouch, laugh unabashedly, tell off-color jokes or lean in to whisper intimacies in your ear. "Now don't tell anyone this, but ..." There's something so ... so wild about it. So fun. So cool. I just don't know if I can be that way sober. I just don't know how I'll stand or hold my glass or toss my head. I don't know how my smile will look. Bored and judgmental? Shy and insecure? I wonder, I really do, if I can be cool without a glass of wine.

*btw - it's been seven years since I wrote this entry and guess what? Yes I can be that cool - and I do it twice a year. :)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day 9 - From July 17, 2003

When I went on my first cleanse (6 months) in the summer of 2003, I kept a journal. (I'm a writer - I've always kept a journal. But it was especially important back then. If you go on a cleanse, it's a good way to vent your feelings - and, of course, to eventually look back and think ... holy fuck, I really used to be fucked up, didn't I?) I want to share an excerpt of an entry from that time because some of you might be thinking: "Oh, this chick. She doesn't know what a drinking problem is. She's not an alcoholic. She never was."

July 17, 2003

Day 5. I told Mark (my husband) yesterday there's a kind of seamlessness ot life when I can't drink. The morning - well, the morning is what it is. I LOVE mornings. Still do. Probably love them even more now that I'm not battling hangovers and guilt.

In the afternoons, a lull moves in, a sort of dullness, a weight. It feels as if things could go either way in the afternoons and I'm just sitting here wondering which way it will be. Usually it tilts downwards from what I've been able to ascertain so far.

The evenings, they fall like a heavy weight on you, like a big wool blanket, something more suitable for the far north than a July evening, something that staves off Arctic chill. Maybe it's not just a wool blanket. Maybe it's more like bear skin (with half the bear still attached) thrown over your shoulders. Your knees start to quake. Your neck aches. You drag your feet to some place to sit down - better yet - lie down. And you wait for sleep.

I'm beginning to see that the world that we know was not invented by alcoholics. I know there have been a few. But for the most part, all the things around us - politics, business, education, religion, afternoon tea - all these things we place so much importance on were probably invented by non-alcoholics. Because alcoholics are too busy getting drunk. What's the point of doing ANYTHING when you can get drunk instead?

I guess artists - a lot of them - have been alcoholic. So they say. We're wooed by that glamorous idea, aren't we? The tortured artist. The creative drunk. I can't be that though - because I have a husband I want to keep. And being an alcoholic embarrasses me because of my past. My mother, you see, was just a simple, messy, common drunk. There were no masterpieces in her closet. No manuscripts tucked away in old trunks. She was just a self-indulgent, undisciplined, immature alkie. The only thing that mattered to her - when I was growing up at least - was having a good time.

I don't know if I inherited that trait from her or just developed it myself when I realized I have an aversion to sobriety. It's boring, slightly uncomfortable, trying, mundane. It irritates me. It's a burden, sobriety. I guess sobriety is not the burden. Life is. Existence is. Drinking is a way of easing the fact that I don't know. Can never know. Why we're here.

I find that I resent the fact that I think about drinking all the time. But then I realized when I was drinking, I was thinking about drinking all the time, too. When would I get the time to go to the liquor store, which one would I go to so they didn't know I was coming in again so soon, where I'd get the money. Where I'd hide the bottles. Pour it. When I'd sneak it. How I'd tuck it away on trips or in my purse. White wine in Evian bottles - that was my secret. Yum.

The thing is - there was that rush, that dopamine rush, at first. But there was rarely ever enough wine. The right amount I mean. I guess when I was a at Linda and Michael's, I had a nice amount. (* L&M are my aunt and uncle, who I love dearly; interestingly, they took me to my first bar; I had my last drinks at their place before my 6-month cleanse). I got drunk but I was so petrified of getting too drunk that I didn't slosh it back every time I was alone in the kitchen or someone turned their back. I CONTROLLED myself. I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror when I was washing my hands and and I said: "You are drunk enough. Don't get MORE drunk."

But that was just one occasion. Usually you can't have just the right amount. At least I've never been good at it. Not even in my teens. Definitely not in university. By then it was falling down the stairs drunk. I stopped falling down the stairs after university (though I did stumble down a few last year and wrenched my foot - it still hurts sometimes). And I did hit my head, really hard, against a brick wall when I fell outside a bar on girl's night that time. I remember I was turning 35 that year. "I'm too old for this!" I told myself. But I didn't stop.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Day 7 - First Weekend Over

I usually take my social calendar way down during a cleanse, except for gotta-go's (like a family wedding coming up in two weeks), work-related outings, and emergency get-togethers with close friends (ie. someone's gotta vent). But generally both my husband and I use my cleanses to chill and restore.

He doesn't completely cut out alcohol (he's never had a problem with drinking - I think I've only seen him really drunk once: on our honeymoon, after a $1000 dinner at La Tour D'Argent, wandering drunkenly down the banks of the Seine on our way to Le Caveau de la Huchette, this underground jazz club in the Latin Quarter where we saw a stunning gypsy-looking woman with flowing black hair and green eyes completely mesmerize a group of drunk sailors. She took one of them upstairs ... probably rolled him from the looks of it. Maybe a couple of them. This place is amazing, btw - an ancient labyrinth dating back to the 1600s, it was turned into a jazz club in 1946.)

Anyway, because I cut down during a cleanse, so does my hubby. And trust me, he's happy to. He was the one who suffered (almost) as much as I did when I went on my drunk angry binges, so he supports whatever I have to do to make sure those terrifying nights don't happen to us again. He'll occasionally have beer here at home or if we're out, but not always. And our fun good-bottle-of-red-pasta-nights are ... well, just pasta nights.

But the hardest part of any cleanse is the first weekend. I'll be honest. I'd love to say: "Yippy! A Friday and Saturday night with nothing but tea and O.J.! Wow! Sign me up!" Nope. That first weekend is actually kind of boring. Friday night was uneventful. I was in bed before midnight, absolutely zonked and unable to keep my eyes open.

Saturday was almost as hard. We usually go for dim sum for lunch, a meal I don't have with wine anyway, so that's not a problem. But even all the carbs and calories of har gow and noodles could not give me that extra boost of energy I needed so badly. It seemed as if my brain had been soaked in Ambien, wrapped in cotton batting, then packed in a shipping crate for an overseas flight. Zzzzzz. My advice is to just go with it. Sink into the lack of energy. Sink into the lethargy. Sink into the pointlessness of it. It won't last forever - like I said, that first weekend is the worst.

Saturday night we went to a movie. We stopped at a nearby resto for dinner. I had O.J. with mine (helps me absorb iron, anyway) and the hubs had iced tea (without the Long Island part). We went to the show - "Dinner For Schmucks" - and almost didn't stop laughing. Nobody did. But afterwards, I couldn't stop thinking of the restaurant. We were there around 9pm and there were quite a few tables. Over the course of dinner, more people poured out of the theater and came in for coffee, dessert, snacks. I didn't see a single beer, drink or glass of wine in eye-shot. And these people were adults! It made me wonder how many of them were recovering alcoholics unable to drink at all - ever. Having to sit there and nurse sparkling water and quiet conversation with like-minded saps. I mean, clean-livers. I'm sorry, but I couldn't do that forever. And I'm grateful that it's just eight Saturday nights a year that I have to. Because a life without wine seems pointless to me. Period.

In "You Can Heal Your Life" - a wonderful book by Louise Hay (Hay House, Inc. 1984) she states that one of the probable causes of alcoholism is a feeling of futility. There are others and I'll go over them in turn, but that feeling of futility - that's what life felt like when my drinking was at my worst. That I had absolutely no control over any aspect of my life, not just drinking. When I took my six-month cleanse, that feeling escalated for the first few weeks. But then it started to ease off.

I know these early sensations of cleansing will ease off soon, too. In fact, they've already started. As difficult and fuzzy and tiring as that first weekend is, I've done these cleanses enough to know that ... the hardest part is already behind me. :)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 3 - Energy Crisis

I get more tired at night when I'm not drinking and I usually go to bed a bit earlier. But that's what the cleanse is about. Winding down, calming down, slowing down. Getting in touch with how you really feel about things in your life - without the camouflaging (if lovely!) effects of alcohol.

But be prepared to feel a little drowsier at night. There are 3.5 grams of carbohydrates and 70 calories in a 100 ml glass of white wine. Uh ... it's been a looooooong time since I've considered a 100 ml glass of wine anything but an insult. That's equivalent to 3.4 ounces - so maybe double that or even triple it if you're SuperSizing somewhere to make a full glass of wine. That's a lot of energy you won't be ingesting every night you're on a cleanse. So keep stocked up with other drinks: teas with healthy sweeteners or a little caffeine, juices, soda pop. Take it easy on the pop obviously. No use curing your alcoholism and getting diabetes. But don't be afraid to treat yourself either. If there's any time you deserve it, it's now. If the juice doesn't cut it, go to sleep! Rest up. Your body will appreciate it and you'll feel so much better throughout your cleanse and after.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 2 DTs

I was really hoping to tell you I slept really well last night and woke up feeling rested. Which is exactly how I felt on Day 2 of my last August cleanse. I know - because I kept a journal. But last night was a 50/50 sleep and there's a heat wave on and the A/C can't cope and maybe, just maybe I ate a bit too much pasta last night. Because usually I have no adverse reactions to starting a cleanse anymore. I feel I've broken up the pattern of my addiction enough times that my body doesn't go into withdrawal. If indeed my slightly "off" feeling this morning was mild withdrawal, it doesn't frighten me. Because I know what happens on a cleanse - and I know that physically, mentally, emotionally - spiritually - I actually feel much better. So this is some kind of blip. Probably blog-paranoia or something.

But I want to be honest about what's happening to me. And I want to share it. Because I really do believe that this new plan can help many people - maybe not all people - but many of my drinking compatriots to continue to live a full life.

So I was feeling blah this morning. You know what I did? I put on my iPhone and picked a favorite old-ish song ("Drive My Soul" by Lights) and I danced around in the living room before my husband woke up. If you have kids, dogs, early bird spouses or housekeepers or nannies or whatever, maybe this isn't feasible for you. Lock yourself in the bathroom then and dance to your favorite song in there. You'll feel better in two and a half minutes.

By the way, I understand from the research that tinkering with your drinking problem is heavily frowned upon. So please take the questionnaire put together by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence featured in chapter 8 of "Drinking: A Love Story." Or take any of the numerous on-line quizzes available to determine where on the scale your drinking problem might be - such as the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test). When I first took the NCADD quiz seven years ago, I answered 'Yes' to half of the 26 questions. Today I barely answer 'yes' to two. :)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 1 - Wine into Water

I have such esteem for the bounty of fermented grapes that it's no surprise to me that Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine (John 2:1-11). It might also account for his continuing popularity. ;)

But as handy a superpower as that would be, when it comes to drinking problems, turning wine to water (or juice or tea or soda pop or whatever!) for two twenty-eight day periods every year is almost as much of a miracle. Because you will cure - or at least start greatly improving - your drinking problem or alcoholism.

The Jesus reference works in another way, too. Not because I'm a traditionally religious person - I'm not. But because I am a spiritual one. And I've done enough of these cleanses to know that at their very essence, they are spiritual in nature. They bring you closer to who you really are. And closer to the people around you. They show you what to appreciate - or change - about your life. They bring you clarity, peace, strength, hope, confidence and joy. It is a quieter time, yes. But it is preceded by much revelry and celebration. So when the cleanse begins, you are ready both physically and spiritually. Today is Day 1 of my cleanse. And I am ready.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Doing The Neurotransmitter Dance

It's a beautiful Sunday morning. I have two days of drinking left before my 4-week alcohol cleanse. Meaning it's another party day - this time a barbecue with the family. :)

I now take two of these 28-day cleanses every year and have been doing so for years. The reason for them is one of the main keys to the success of this new plan. When I read Caroline Knapp's "Drinking: A Love Story" she helped explain the reason that alcohol is so addictive - and damaging. I've outlined it in "The New Plan" tab at the top of the page, but it's so important - and so liberating - it's worth repeating (about a million times). Because becoming addicted to alcohol is not your fault. It's a normal, almost inevitable physiological response to having alcohol in your system, especially if you're predisposed to alcohol abuse. As I was.

The key to understanding the problem is that alcohol changes the chemistry of your brain. It's a very complicated series of reactions. (Dirk Hanson has written a wonderful book called "The Chemical Carousel" which explains it in detail.) Really simply put, when you have a drink, you have an unnatural jolt of serotonin and dopamine shoot through you. Among other things, these neurotransmitters are responsible for feelings of well-being, pleasure, and joy - and it explains why we love drinking so much.

But understanding the role of dopamine and drinking really unlocked the problem for me. When you abuse alcohol - drink too much over too long a period - your brain adjusts by no longer producing dopamine naturally. Meaning when you're not drinking, you actually feel depressed. And the only thing that will help you feel better is a drink. But even when you do have a drink, the joy might only last a moment or two because once you've entered an addiction pattern, your brain reacts by shutting down dopamine production immediately. So you need another drink. And so on and so on.

But in "Drinking: A Love Story," Knapp explained that the brain can heal itself - and WILL begin producing dopamine again naturally if you quit drinking. I did. In 2003 I quit for six months. After that, I incorporated alcohol back into my life and now I enjoy all the benefits of drinking - without having to worry about hiding, lying, shame, guilt, fear - or uncontrolled addiction. Giving your brain - and your body - a break from the addictive qualities of alcohol on a regular basis will allow it to continue producing dopamine naturally. Which stops the deadly and depressing connection between dopamine and alcohol.

I consider this information from Knapp a life saver. It has made my cleanses a very spiritual time full of gratitude and wonder. And a lot of juice.